When I was sixteen, all zits and teen-aged angst, the one person who understood and comforted me better than anyone else was Hector.
When I was 25 and pregnant with my daughter, Annie was always around to make me laugh.
In Germany, when I was 33, my friend Max was the one who made me giggle. He also forced me to walk and move in spite of terribly painful rheumatoid arthritis flares, but always snuggled with me afterwards, soothing my pain and frustration and touching my heart with his kisses and devotion.
Back in the States again, when I was 40, Logan warmed my aching fingers and kissed them gently. Pib comforted me when my hips hurt, and when I was 53 years old, Finny cuddled me and, like Max, pressed me to walk and move when I didn’t really want to. Like the others, Finny also made me chortle.
Who were these people? They were dogs and cats, of course. Hector was a brindle Boston terrier with a certain expertise regarding adolescent girls. When the inevitable teenage traumas hit, Hec was right there to demonstrate his deep understanding and loyal
solidarity with me and Bobby Sherman time and time again). He frequently tipped his head back, rounded his lips and sang along with me as I played music on my little organ-piano, particularly inspired when I hit flats and sharps at the same time. How we laughed, Hector and I! And man, could that little guy play a wicked game of backyard tetherball. If Hector had a vice (other than occasional nose-hair-curling attacks of flatulence), it was streaking out the front door to find another dog—always a much, much larger dog than himself—to pick a fight with. By the time we tracked him down, he usually had his unfortunate victim cowed or even running for its life, tail tucked tight. Hector strutted his stuff all the way home in spite of being scolded, a big, goofy Boston terrier grin on his face. He was obviously not in the least bit sorry for being naughty.
Annie was a miniature smooth-haired Dachshund, barely 14 inches long from the tip of her delicate nose to the end of her little tail. We joked that while she might be a little too big for a hot dog bun, she’d fit perfectly into a hoagie. One of my dearest memories of her is of when, one evening when I was sitting on the sofa watching TV, she climbed up onto my very pregnant, very round belly and stretched herself out across the top of it for a little nap. Suddenly the baby kicked, hard, raising Annie’s hind end about an inch before dropping it back. Annie gazed at her bottom, her little brow wrinkling, and then up at me. She had such a quizzical look on her face I busted out laughing. She just sighed, put her head back down on her teensy front feet, and went back to sleep.
Max was a standard wire-haired Dachshund (born as he was in Germany, I’m sure he spoke Deutsch far better than I did, even though he was a dog). We lived in a third-floor flat, so it was necessary that we take him outdoors for a walk two or three times each day and a couple of times each evening. My husband and I took turns when we were both home at the same time, and he usually took my turns for me when I had a bad flare going. Even so, there were many, many times when I limped slowly along behind my little dog, willing him to just get on with it, please? my teeth gritted against the pain. Sometimes I counted cadence under my breath (HUP-two-three-four!)\. I even sang childhood songs (The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah) in time with my steps, distracting my panicky mind from the awful pain. When we climbed all the way back up the stairs to our flat, Max snuggled up next to me on the sofa, transferring his warmth and yes, his love, to me. I’m convinced that he knew; that he wanted to comfort me in any way he could. And he did.
Logan was much larger, an unexpectedly gorgeous cross between a border
collie and a Queensland healer. He had long, thick russet fur—fur so luxurious the full length of my fingers would disappear in it. It was incredibly soft and warm, and it felt so good on my flared knuckles. Strange and a bit addled from puppyhood, Logan was nonetheless tender and devoted to me and the other members of the family. He always sat patiently as I warmed my fingers in his fur, soothing the dreadful aching. Often, when I took my hand away, he’d turn around and nudge at it with his nose until I let him kiss the affected fingers, his tongue soft and infinitely gentle. This from a dog who, from the time he was about eight months old, was so dangerously aggressive with strangers we had to keep him locked away from visitors throughout his long life. Logan was the most difficult dog-friend I ever had, but I loved him completely.
PIB (Puss in Boots) was a tuxedo cat. He spent the first eight years of his life as an indoor/outdoor cat, always friendly and affectionate but, like many cats, very independent and frequently standoffish. Though he’d been neutered, he still guarded our property as his own territory and defended it
fiercely against other feline intruders. Finally, his over-inflated sense of duty just about killed him. After much home nursing and veterinary expense, PIB recovered after a long battle against a terribly infected, abscessed wound in his belly, presumably the result of scrapping with someone who had much larger teeth than his own. The result: when he healed, PIB became an indoor cat.
Though he perceived his confinement as an undignified insult at first, eventually PIB decided that his new life of leisure was pretty darned comfy after all. When I was laid off from my job and began spending great swaths of time at home in the daytime, PIB became my 24-hour-a-day companion. Where once he’d enduredthe indignity of being held and petted as part of his job as family cat/property guard, now he sought it out, spending a great deal of time on my lap, purring when he wasn’t actually snoring. He didn’t mind if I slipped my hands under him for the deep warmth his little body radiated. And when I got hip bursitis, he made it a habit to meatloaf on my hips at night, once again sharing his magical cat-warmth. As time passed
we became closer and closer, PIB and I. I brought him over to live at my mom’s house with us once it was clear she shouldn’t live alone anymore. And when PIB died at 15 years old last fall, I simply crumbled with grief. That sweet old cat was my brother.
These wonderful animals—and all the others: Jake, Petey, Mugs I and Mugs II the boxers; Albert the Boston terrier; Winston the English bulldog; Spinner
the Siamese cat; Alex and Merlin the marmalade tabbies; sweet Nessie the Doberman mix; Finny McCool the Scottie/Schnauzer (Schnottie?); Shadow the Labrador retriever; and now, Mouse the Maine Coon cat—each gave or still gives me love and devotion, laughter, comfort, my Beloved Friends and Companions. Brothers and sisters, even. As Adrienne, the writer of the blog You Don’t Look Sick wrote yesterday, “Dogs are so intuitive. My doggies know when I am ill and won’t leave my side. When I am in bed sick, they don’t even want to leave me to go eat.” Adrienne gets it. She obviously has some dear animal friends, herself.
Dogs surely are intuitive and deeply empathetic. Cats are, too. I can’t imagine my life without the selfless, unconditional love, sweetness and joy my companion animals have given me. It would be a barren, much less joyful life without them, I think. My hope is that I’ve fully returned that same generousness of spirit to them as I’ve cared for them, gave them a warm, comfortable home and even gave each of them a comfortable bed (usually mine). I’ve done my
best to freely give them back all the love and comfort they’ve given me to me.
Big, fluffy Mouse is becoming more and more comfortable with me and her new home as the days pass. She’s goofy, sweet and heartbreakingly affectionate—just exactly what I hoped she’d be like when I adopted her two weekends ago. My achy fingers sink to the palm into her thick fur, and she likes it. She purrs and rumbles and bumps her head into my hand, reminding me of my old buddy PIB and bringing tears to my eyes.
He, Max, Logan and Hector would be proud.